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Athletics: Gemili's gamble paying off

One demand for a selfie follows another but Adam Gemili patiently acquiesces.

Adam Gemili's switch from football to the track was a journey into the unknown Photograph: Getty
Adam Gemili's switch from football to the track was a journey into the unknown Photograph: Getty

The 200 metres final at the UK Championships has just concluded with the 20-year-old coming off second best to Danny Talbot but it does not dent his mood. It is only three summers since the Englishman was a mere bystander himself, harbouring sporting dreams on a different stage. Tackles, passes and goals were expected to propel him towards his ambitions rather than lunges at full tilt through the photo finish.

We talk following a stint in the kitchen for the Londoner at a promotional lunch, hauling him out of his natural sphere. "I don't think I'm heading for Masterchef," he laughs. Instead, he is Hampden-bound, twice within the next month, first for this week's Sainsbury's Grand Prix and then to represent England at the Commonwealth Games.

Since emerging in 2011, Gemili has been cooking up a storm, a world junior title, European Under-23 champion and then a run of 19.98 seconds at last year's World Championships which made him only the second British athlete to go sub-20. In Germany yesterday, he clocked 10.04secs in the 100m.

His sprinting destiny seems so obvious now and it is incredible to think his athletics career was nearly left in the starting blocks when he was dithering between pursuing his goal of becoming a professional footballer and committing himself wholly to the track.

Seven seasons in the Chelsea Academy brought him within touching distance of nirvana. Even the apprentice's matchday obligations were gilt-edged. "We'd go out and warm up on the pitch with the players and I was lucky enough to be up the end with the Barcelona team," he recounts. "I did a couple of one-twos with Lionel Messi and it was something I'll never forget. The pressure I felt was just incredible to return it back to him."

League Two, with his local club Dagenham & Redbridge, was less stellar; a drop on loan into the Conference North distinctly E-List. Infused with raw quickness, the advice was to change path. It was, he admits, an emotional journey.

"I didn't really have a clue how I'd do in track and field whereas in football, I knew where I was at. It was a gamble for me to throw myself into a sport that I knew nothing about. That was hard."

Yet ultimately prescient. Gemili is now at the crest of the wave of high-speed runners from these shores, all with grand designs on breaking the hegemony cultivated in the Caribbean and the United States. In Friday's 100 metres at the Diamond League meeting, Dwain Chambers, will be joined by James Dasaolu, Richard Kilty and Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, all capable of disrupting the charge of Jamaica's Yohan Blake and Trinidad's Richard Thompson.

Add in the exciting arriviste Chijindu Ujah, whose run of 9.96 seconds last month was deemed too late for consideration for England's Commonwealth crew, and the internal competition has become ferocious. "We have 10 men under 10.2," says Gemili. "That made selection very difficult."

The return of Dasaolu - second only to Linford Christie in the UK's all-time rankings - at Thursday's Diamond League stop in Lausanne has crowded the field. How he performs at Hampden in five days time will factor heavily on whether he gets the selectors' nod for next month's European Championships.

Injury-prone, Dasaolu's 2013 best of 9.91 nonetheless raised the bar among the training group at Loughborough headed by Steve Fudge. "I learned so much from him," Gemili says. "He's an incredible athlete and it is great to train alongside him. He didn't just break the barrier. He absolutely smashed it. It gives us all confidence when you see that, not just from the British guys but the women as well."

The two-day meeting at Hampden will provide a taster of the multi-day jamboree that lies beyond. From Laura Muir and Lynsey Sharp's duel in the 800 metres to Allan Smith and Jax Thoirs' Diamond League debuts in the high jump and pole vault, the Scottish contingent will get a live rehearsal for the Commonwealths with the sport's leading lights providing the best possible cast of challengers.

Gemili once craved a run-out at Wembley. This is no bad consolation. "With the history Hampden's got in football, I'm so excited to be coming there and seeing how it's been changed," he said. "I've looked at the videos online it but it will be cool to get out there. It can give a bit of a spark. I want to be in the mix with the world's best and see what I need to improve on."

o Sainsbury's Glasgow Grand Prix, Friday, 5.30 and Saturday, 1.30pm, Hampden. Sainsbury's is proud to support British Athletics through its involvement in the Summer Series and beyond. To purchase tickets, visit britishathletics.org.uk

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